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New models - Hyundai - Elantra

First drive: New look, better value Elantra

Volume seller: Hyundai’s top-selling Elantra now offers the most power in class.

A facelifted, better equipped Elantra is the first of many better value Hyundais

2 Oct 2003

THE first in a wave of better value Hyundais has been rushed into Australian showrooms, with a facelifted Elantra going on sale earlier than expected following a sell-out of the previous model.

Featuring new interior and exterior styling elements, extra equipment and more performance, the sharper Elantra also boasts a keener pricetag.

As part of a new sales strategy for the South Korean car-maker following Hyundai Motor Company’s buy-out of local vehicle distribution, pricing for the Elantra sedan and liftback range now starts at $18,990 - $1000 less than previously.

However, pricing for the refreshed Elantra range no longer includes on-road costs, following Hyundai’s cessation of driveaway pricing. But Hyundai says this is more than compensated for by the extra standard equipment.

The revised Elantra range now opens with the newly named HVT variant, which replaces the former GL entry level car and continues to be available in both sedan and liftback guise, at $18,990. Automatic versions cost an extra $1990, at $20,980.

Representing the first update to the XD Elantra since it appeared in October 2000, Elantra HVT offers a new trapezoidal grille (matt black on liftback, with a chrome surround on sedan), a matching new bonnet, reshaped headlights, new full-width lower airdam, new tail-lights, new sedan bootlid and new wheel trims. Overall length has increased 15mm on the sedan and 25mm on the liftback.

Inside, there’s a new cloth seat trim, new Australian-made VDO instrument clusters with "crater-effect" speedo and tacho, different air vents and extra dash storage recesses.

Replacing the previous 1.8-litre engine is a single new 2.0-litre four-cylinder for all Elantras. Featuring HVT-dubbed variable intake valve timing from which the base model takes its name, the new 2.0-litre engine offers best-in-class power and torque. With a peak of 105kW at 6000rpm and maximum torque of 186Nm at 4000rpm, it beats even Mazda3’s new (non-VVT) 104kW/181Nm 2.0-litre.

The figures are 21Nm up on the previous 1.8-litre at 500 fewer revs, while emissions and fuel consumption are also improved, the latter claimed to have dropped by 0.4L/100km (auto) and 0.2L/100km (manual) compared with the previous non-HVT 2.0-litre.

In terms of equipment, the base HVT Elantra gains the following over the previous GL: front passenger airbag, MP3/CD audio system, rear power windows, remote keyless entry, driver’s seat height/tilt and lumbar adjustment, lidded and repositioned (hatch only) child seat anchors, shopping bag hook, interior light delay off function and a removable tool tray.

The more luxurious Elantra Elite sedan and liftback replaces the previous GLS as the new Elantra flagship and is available now at $23,990 manual and $25,980 auto. In addition to the HVT’s external changes, Elite gets wider six-inch alloy wheels (instead of the HVT’ 5.5-inch steel wheels), plus a rear wing that’s more radical on the liftback.

Inside, Elite heralds leather upholstery for the first time in Elantra, plus "dome-effect" speedo and tacho with blue lighting and a trip computer.

Options are White Pearl paint finish ($374), Mica finish ($225) and Metallic finish ($215), while an Extra Safety Pack including ABS and alloy wheels remains optional on HVT, priced at $2000.

In addition to HVT and the previous Elantra GLS specification, Elantra Elite offers as standard ABS, leather-trimmed seats, armrest, steering wheel and gearknob, twin retractable cupholders (hatch) and lidded storage bin (sedan).

Hyundai Motor Company Australia hopes the facelifted Elantra will match the sales performance of the previous model during its runout phase, with projected sales of between 1000 and 1200 a month and the Elantra HVT liftback being the volume seller.

The slow-selling, "Eurohatch" LaVita continues to be available as the third Elantra model, but is unchanged and is "under review".

PRICING:
Elantra HVT sedan: $18,990 manual, $20,980 auto
Elantra HVT liftback: $18,990 manual, $20,980 auto
Elantra Elite sedan: $23,990 manual, $25,980 auto
Elantra Elite liftback: $23,990 manual, $25,980 autoHVT Extra Safety Pack (ABS/alloys): $2000
White Pearl finish: $374
Mica finish: $225
Metallic finish: $215
(all pricing is recommended retail, plus on-road costs)

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

AS Hyundai’s global top-seller and top export model, Elantra is crucial to Hyundai’s hopes of attaining 50,000 sales and becoming top importer in Australia by 2005, and a global top five car-maker by 2010.

The new look, extra equipment and keener pricing should at least maintain the current level of local popularity enjoyed by Elantra, which has helped HMCA shift considerably from its previous 80 per cent dependency on the Excel, then Accent and Getz light cars, which now compete in a shrinking market segment.

As such, expect HMCA to put most marketing effort into Elantra, which will be just one of many new entrants in an expanding small car segment that’s more competitive than ever.

As the least expensive model in the super-hot small car class – priced the same as Kia’s Spectra, just under Daewoo’s $19,490 Lacetti and the $19,990 Nissan Pulsar and Toyota Corolla, and significantly less than the likes of Mitsubishi Lancer, Holden Astra, Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza - Elantra makes a convincing argument in value terms.

Just as it boasts the most standard equipment, Elantra is now the only small car to offer a 2.0-litre engine at this price and also one of the few 2.0-litre entry level small cars in this segment. It also happens to be the most powerful engine in the small car club.

But the interesting point here is that Elantra’s 105kW peak comes at a big 6000rpm – the highest number in the class – meaning Hyundai’s small car remains somewhat revvy in nature. And, despite its best-in-class torque figure claimed to be available at a reasonable 4000rpm, Elantra feels sluggish at low revs and only delivers its best up top.

The dearth of bottom-end pulling power is most apparent in upper gears at higher speeds, such as during overtaking manoeuvres on the highway, where Elantra feels very docile and is also noisy compared to its rivals.

Elantra’s steering remains vague, slow to respond and has a tendency for kickback over mid-corner bumps. But ride quality is commendable for a small car, with Elantra gliding over small frequency bumps other cars would more readily object to.

The downside of this, however, is bodyroll, which Elantra is readily disposed to at even moderate cornering speeds. Grip levels are adequate, but torque steer is ever present when Elantra is asked to both turn and accelerate at the same time.

The different front and rear-end styling and instrument clusters give Elantra a slightly edgier new look, while new features like the relocated child seat anchor points – from the rear of the hatch’s boot to the front – improve practicality for families.

A number of other neat touches like the child seat anchor covers in the sedan add refinement, plus handy additions like keyless entry, extra driver’s seat adjustment and power rear windows increase everyday convenience. And the Elite's leather looks, feels and smells good.

In short, although ride quality and outright acceleration is good, Elantra’s average driving dynamics and refinement levels make tapping its performance more challenging than it should be, and day-to-day driving less enjoyable than it could be.

But if you’re after the least expensive, best equipped small car in Australia – that also happens to have the only five-year/130,000km warranty - Elantra is it.

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